The Political and economic impact of the First World War on Britain 1914-1918

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Britain and the First World War
Topic 3 AQA p,s 34-42
The Political and economic impact of the First World War on Britain 1914-1918
Points to consider

  • How did the Liberal government lead Britain through the war

.‘War would be the locomotive of change’

. The war would last much longer than anybody was expecting

. To win such a war Britain would need greater manpower and materials-could it pursue its policy of ‘

business as usual’?

. During the war many traditional beliefs were challenged eg freedom of the individual and free trade

(McKenna duties-introduction of tariffs on luxury goods)

.There would be more state intervention in the economy-railways, shipping, munitions and mining.

There would be dilution agreements

.There would be greater intervention on the individual eg DORA (Defence of the Realm Act October

1914), Conscription (First Military Service Act January 1916 this replaced ‘voluntarism) Rationing

. The Liberals would have to give up ruling alone (May 1915-First war coalition formed with the


.There was tension as to the conduct of the war-Lloyd George was moved from Minister of Munitions

to become the Minister of War . From this position Lloyd George wanted an inner war cabinet from

which Asquith was to be excluded .

. Liberal commitment to Ireland and Home Rule would have to be put on hold. Would lose the support

of the Irish Nationalist Party which had previously allowed them to have a majority in the election

. December 1916 Lloyd George would replace Asquith as PM (would see a confirmed split within the

.Liberal Party / there had been created two mutually hostile factions) and in 1917 the second war


.The split would increase further with the Maurice Debate in May 1918

.The coupon election of 1918

  • What was the impact on the political parties-the ‘war would be a catalyst for political change’

. The major beneficiary would be the Conservatives as they gained great political momentum from the war. By using Lloyd George and supporting his role in the Shell crisis they were able to perpetrate a divide within the Liberals. When Lloyd George formed the second war coalition this involved giving the Conservatives more power. They would gain vital cabinet and ministerial experience.

. The Liberals were divided as explained above

. Labour overcame their issue of whether to support the war which had almost split them. Arthur Henderson would be given a place in the Cabinet. The co-operation of the trade unions was seen as vital to the war effort and membership almost doubled to 8m.With the demand for change the war also saw the widening of the franchise. This was the 1918 Representation of the People Act which meant the size of the electorate almost trebled including many men from the lower levels of the working class (a reflection of socio-economic changes and a strong sense of class consciousness.)This franchise would acknowledge the contribution of women to the war effort and the fact that it was wrong to have compulsory service and yet have a large percentage of men unable to vote in the parliamentary elections.Labour also benefited as the war encouraged ideas of equality and also Labour became better organised. Also people were interested in their belief that they saw a commitment to the state ownership of industry.

. The Irish Nationalist Party The war was a disaster. Home Rule was put on hold. Sinn Fein would takeover .

**********1918 ‘Coupon election’(the coupon was a letter provided by Bonar Law and Lloyd George to every MP who had supported the coalition government during the war).The reason it being called a coupon was because if the candidate had a letter they were almost guaranteed to be re-elected because the government was popular and like a coupon this could be exchanged for a seat in the commons. This divided the Liberals even further with the main beneficiaries being the conservatives.

  • The economic impact of the war

.There would be a move from the former emphasis on ‘laissez faire and business as usual to the State virtually running the whole economy.

. There would be an extension of the DORA to grant more state power over industry as there would be a central purchasing system for essential war materials. Control of prices, wages and profits, rationing.

. There was a move from peacetime to war production.

.Key industries came under control-eg. Railways, docks and mines.

.Women were encouraged to enter jobs previously done by men.

. A Department of Food Production was set up.

. Cost of the war went from £200m in 1913to £2600m in 1918- a move away from balancing the budget.

.Britain’s National Debt increased by 1200%

Topic 4AQA p’s 42-47
Social change as a consequence of the war, particularly in regard to the position of women
Points to consider
The extent of social change by1918
. There would be a national involvement in the war( could be described as a’total war’)

. For the working classes the war brought full employment .

. There would a reduction in deep poverty due to controls on rents and on the prices of essential


. Middle and Upper classes experienced a reduction in their living standards(income tax rose and

profits were limited). Many landed estates had to be sold off.

. The war increased social mobility but class divisions were not broken down.

. Education was disrupted.

. Churches were to have a greater role
The extent to which the war was responsible for accelerating women’s political emancipation
.The war would accelerate the change as there had already occurred a change before 1914.

.Six million men of working age were taken out of the economy and around 1m women entered the work force and by 1918 women made up one third of the workforce. 80% were involved in munitions.

.Women did face reluctance from the trade unions.

.Banking, finance, agriculture. Women’s Royal Naval Service, the Women’s Auxiliary Army Corpsand Women’s Royal Air Force.

Results of the war for women.
.Vital for success of war effort. After 1921 the % of women in the total workforce was little different to 1911

.Perception of women radically altered.It still has to be remembered that there still existed a strong emphasis on women’s traditional roles.

.1919 Sex Disqualification Act opened up the Civil Service, local government and jury service to women.

Votes for women
.It is essential to remember that the movement towards women’s suffrage had already been underway prior to the war. By suspending (NUWSS) hostile campaigning during the war saw a change in attitude during the war.

. In the RPTPA WOMEN OVER 30 AND MARRIED TO A HOUSEHOLDER WERE GIVEN THE VOTE ! It would be 1928 before women were given the vote on the same terms as men –at 21 years.

Britain emerged from the war as a changed nation see conclusion.
Before next lesson prepare this question.
How far did the First World War change British Society’
Remember identify the changes but be aware of the strenghs of the limitations. In the next lesson we will write all your views and examples on the board.

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